Lombok and the rice field of dreams


“He's fishing for eels”, our guide Bot tells me as we walk carefully on the narrow grass banks which run along the perimeter of the rice fields. We have been watching a man pulling a line and bringing up his furiously-wriggling prey, waving to us with one hand while reeling in his catch deftly with the other. “They are used for medicine" he tells me. "When the doctor tells someone they need more blood, they go out and eat an eel; it contains more than 90% blood.”

The logic leaves me unconvinced, but this is just one of many such cheerful encounters in the foothills of Mount Rinjani, the volcano which dominates the landscape of Lombok. The village of Tetebatu is directly to the south of the mountain and is a popular starting point for hikes to the summit and the crater lake. Bot is a former leader of the kampung (village) and as we walk through the rice fields he is stopped by a succession of people. Some ask him for help with matters of local administration, while others just want to catch up on local gossip. On top of his distractions, we are something of a novelty, and children in particular are keen to shout out to us. One gang insists on high-fiving us one by one, while others try out their limited repertoire of English words.

Bot leads us along the dirt tracks beside the mud houses of the village. We stop to watch a lady who is busy roasting coffee in her tiny hut; she smiles and waves to us before returning to her beans. At the neighbouring house two men are in serious discussion around their flock of racing pigeons. There’s a strong stench of cow dung, with single cows kept in the tiny yards in front of the huts. "Not for milk,” Bot tells us. “Only for meat.”


The kampung looks dirt poor, but what it lacks in basic amenities it more than makes for in dreams. Bot explains to me that plans are under way to make the kampung the centre of homestay tourism in Lombok. Visitors will stay in the village houses, some of which are already being adapted to accommodate guests. Residents will open their doors to tourists, providing coffee and snacks and inviting them to get a glimpse of village life. Central to the plans is the philosophy that the profits from the enterprise will be shared among the whole community. According to Bram, another young man I meet when we stop for a drink, tourists’ interests will be central to everything. Even the mosque will be a silent one, such is the concern that the 4am call to prayer may prove a deterrent to western visitors.

We take a walk up to the forest above the village with Hir, a likeable young lad who is also keen to talk about the grand scheme. He leads us through the thick grass, pointing out jack fruit and papaya trees along the way. Eventually we spy a group of black monkeys in the distance, and staying still and quiet we watch these typically nervous creatures as they swing and crash through the forest canopy.

On the way back we stop for a cooling swim at a pair of waterfalls just outside the village, before the young lads offer us a ride back to our guesthouse on their motorbikes.

That night I'm woken at 4am by a particularly loud call to prayer from the neighbouring mosque. I lie awake and wonder how Tetebatu will look if the grand dreams come to pass – and whether a quiet mosque is really the best way to offer visitors what they’re likely to come all this way to experience.


You can get Bali included as a stopover on your round the world here


Searching for the real Ubud

On a short walk between our guesthouse and restaurant on the popular Monkey Forest Road, we were offered no fewer than 20 taxis and a dozen massages. A fellow tourist told us that restaurant staff had thrust menus at her while she was out for a run. Certainly the hawkers in the tourist centre are pretty intense and if they're not part of your preconception of Ubud they can easily cloud your initial impressions. This was the case for us, and it took a little time and a bit of poking around before we finally understood why the city is a must-see on any itinerary to Bali.

Ubud’s main routes are clogged up with traffic throughout the day, with daytrippers from Kuta and Seminyak adding to the mass of local traffic on the hopelessly inadequate roads. Tour operators, restaurants and money changers line the streets. Pavements are often absent, with large holes randomly formed to punish those who don’t look up from their phones or cameras to see where they're going.

View Ubud only from the main drags and you’d probably leave unimpressed, having seen little more than the standard fare seen in tourist traps the world over; although in Ubud’s defence its restaurants offer more variety and better quality than you’ll find in many similarly popular towns. But the good news is that it doesn’t take a great deal of effort to dig beyond this soulless exterior and uncover the most appealing side to the town.

My early indifference to Ubud changed when we took a morning walk up to the village of Campuan. The 3km track from the edge of town took us on a steady climb above a river bank and quickly gave us views over the surrounding rice fields. We’d set off at 7am to avoid the worst of the heat and were grateful for the light rain which accompanied our early start, but by 8am the humidity was already stifling. Egrets rested in the fields and after the rain had faded, insects came out to feed on the moisture and we stopped to admire dragonflies and a particularly long millipede which narrowly avoided my size 11s.

In Campuan ladies were bringing their offerings to the temple and the many surrounding small shrines. Builders were already hard at work (they start very early in Bali, as we’d discovered at our previous hotel).  Chickens crossed the road for no obvious reason, and the stray dogs, so prevalent across Bali, raised their heads to see who was passing. Few were stirred into even a half-hearted bark.

Our walk took us around the edge of the rice fields and eventually back into Ubud, just in time for a well-earned shower and breakfast. After 3 days in town we’d finally seen a glimpse of the landscape which has inspired artists from around the world to settle in the town.



In fact even those who don't fancy a walk out of town can get beyond Ubud's commercial facade. Oddly enough, to lose the hustlers who fill the main roads, the best tactic is to head into the centre, between the main roads which ring the town. Here, rice fields sit between homestays and villas, and the faces at the stalls of the local shops are gentle and smiling; it's quite a contrast to the determination, almost desperation, at the central market, where visitors are chased for their precious rupiah.   

You can get Bali included as a stopover on your round the world here